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Scars Above Review

Through adversity, to the Scars

I wouldn’t blame you if, like me, Scars Above had completely flown under your radar. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a die-hard PC gamer with my finger planted firmly on the pulse of upcoming releases, but when WellPlayed’s fearless leader Zach Jackson asked me to review a challenging third-person sci-fi action shooter, the only game I thought it could be was the PC port of the sensational Returnal. Thankfully, I was wrong, and although Scars Above shares some DNA of the aforementioned, it also takes inspiration from the likes of Mass Effect, Dead Space, Metroid and even the Batman: Arkham series (sort of). Though they apparently have made a name for themselves by making some solid hidden object and point-and-click titles, Mad Head Games has managed to deliver an enjoyable (if simplistic) entry into the science fiction shooter scene.

In a setup that will be familiar to fans of the genre, a large alien artifact has mysteriously appeared in Earth’s orbit and humanity sends a crack team of scientists to investigate. After we’re introduced to our protagonist Kate and her crewmates, their attempts to scan ‘The Metahedron’ results in their spaceship being teleported to, and ultimately crashing on an exoplanet somewhere in a seemingly far-off universe. After a strange, otherworldly experience, Kate wakes up alone and ill-equipped to deal with the immediately hostile inhabitants of this planet. It’s up to you to fill Kate’s boots and help her survive long enough to find her missing crewmates, unravel the various mysteries presented and perhaps eventually find a way back home.

Definitely not in Kansas anymore

As I mentioned before, Scars Above will feel pretty familiar to fans of third-person shooters, and even for complete newcomers the general gameplay loop will be fairly easy to pick up. Although you’ll start off with some basic equipment to slash and shoot the aggressive alien creatures trying to murder you, you’ll progressively unlock weapons with different elemental damage types such as electrical, fire and ice. Throughout your adventure, you’ll also discover various gadgets to be used during combat, offering you opportunities to do things like slow down everything caught in a giant bubble, distract enemies with a holographic decoy or briefly coat yourself in an impenetrable shield to get out of a nasty situation. One of the unique twists that you’ll discover early on is that elemental damage has a pretty decent impact on your effectiveness in combat. For example, if the enemy you are facing is in water (or it’s raining), giving them a blast with your electric rifle is going to do a lot more damage than shooting them with an flaming incendiary round. If you find yourself lacking a handy environmental advantage, you can also experiment with different elemental combos at your disposal, such as coating an enemy with ice from your cryo-blaster to get them wet THEN zapping them with electricity to get a much more impactful attack.

Get ’em wet, then give ’em a shock!

Since one of your primary objectives is to find Kate’s missing crewmates, exploration is an important part of Scars Above. There are a fair few distinct biomes with unique threats and environmental puzzles that will see you hunting down artifacts and power sources to progress, or even task you with crafting a way to cross a carnivorous worm-infested lake (hint: your guns are also tools to help you overcome obstacles). Scanning new enemies and alien structures or finding discarded knowledge cubes will grant experience points that can be used to upgrade skills that Kate has, and these skills will offer boons like increased health and stamina pools, better combat effectiveness and the ability to scan enemies to locate their weak points. There are also sections of the game where Kate will need to scan her surroundings to deduce how puzzles work, unlock new weapons, or uncover previous events, like a Batman crime scene investigation. Although the level design is fairly linear (especially towards the end of the game) there are enough knowledge cubes, hidden gear upgrades and interesting lore collectibles to make looking around worthwhile.

I find myself conflicted with Scars Above as I quite enjoyed playing through it and felt really positive in the opening act of the game; I was impressed with what I saw and expected a robust AA sci-fi shooter to sink my teeth into to follow that confident opening. After the first few hours though, things began to feel a little too simple, rushed or perhaps developed independently of each other, and decidedly unpolished in places. For example, an early set piece moment that leads to the first big-boss type enemy begins when Kate encounters an NPC who talks briefly in a cutscene, before hard cutting at a speed likely to give you whiplash to an arena with a giant creature in the middle of it. After I killed the giant beast, some dialogue pointed out that it was the person I’d just been talking to, transformed. At first I thought I’d maybe skipped something by accident, but as I continued there were other instances where it felt like narrative moments had been haphazardly dropped into the flow of gameplay, rather than woven in properly. Even some simple stuff could have been polished a bit better, like frustrating controls when solving some puzzles or how when Kate moves through a crawlspace (which happens pretty frequently) the over-the-shoulder camera clips through the environment. Every time. I will say that I was playing a pre-release build of the game so there may be a patch on the way that addresses a few of this minor gripes, but I thought I should mention it in case things like this are deal-breakers.

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Harder, better, faster, stronger…smarter?

Final Thoughts

Despite the simplicity and a few missteps, I actually quite liked the roughly seven hours I spent playing through Scars Above. The story was interesting, the environments were diverse and lovely to look at and the sound design and music were sensational. I’d describe this as something akin to a refreshed PlayStation 2-era sci-fi shooter rather than a contemporary title, but I say that with a fondness for it, rather than disdain. I think that Mad Head Games should be proud of what it’s achieved, and if third-person shooters are your thing, I’d encourage you to check it out.

Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher

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Scars Above Review
Wanna know how I got these scars?
Scars Above is an enjoyable, if simple, entry into the sci-fi shooter genre. Although elements of the game feel a bit rushed or unpolished, none of that will detract from the overall experience. If you have a few hours to spare and you like mysterious adventures on far-flung planets, I recommend giving this one a go.
The Good
Interesting story and characters
Combat is simple and elemental combos are fun
Beautiful environments and a fantastic soundtrack
Engaging environmental and exploration puzzles
The Bad
A bit too simple in some parts
Elements of the game feel unpolished
Late game feels a bit rushed
7
Solid
  • Mad Head Games
  • Prime Matter
  • PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / PC
  • March 1, 2023

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Scars Above Review
Wanna know how I got these scars?
Scars Above is an enjoyable, if simple, entry into the sci-fi shooter genre. Although elements of the game feel a bit rushed or unpolished, none of that will detract from the overall experience. If you have a few hours to spare and you like mysterious adventures on far-flung planets, I recommend giving this one a go.
The Good
Interesting story and characters
Combat is simple and elemental combos are fun
Beautiful environments and a fantastic soundtrack
Engaging environmental and exploration puzzles
The Bad
A bit too simple in some parts
Elements of the game feel unpolished
Late game feels a bit rushed
7
Solid
Written By Edward Darling

If they had waterproof controllers in the 80s, Edward would probably have been gaming in the womb. He'll play anything with a pixel and would rather make console love, not console wars. PSN / XBL: CptLovebone

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